‘What [ ] is behind [ ] that curtain?’ (Laurie Anderson)
Revisiting the music of Laurie Anderson, a favourite of my childhood, it occurs to me that listening to her ‘Big Science’ is like listening to Anne Carson. Through a vocoder.
They share an ability to sculpt silence and to stop you in your tracks while doing so. As Carson said (in her ‘Stammering, Stops, Silence’ lecture) when referring to a statement of Joan of Arc’s – [It] is a sentence that stops itself. Its components are simple yet it stays foreign, we cannot own it. Likewise Laurie Anderson presents in apparently simple accessible terms a familiar, yet resistant, unknowable world. You can hear doors clicking open, then shut, all over her work. Likewise, Carson’s. Sure, they leave things unsaid, but they also say things out loud that resist. Things that, having resisted the mind’s attempt to decode, can only run on through the body, leaving some kind of somatic comprehension.
Another thing Carson and Anderson share is a tremendous sense of authority. Famously, Anderson talks of her use of a vocoder to achieve a masculine register, referring to this process as ‘audio drag’. Now, as a child sat rapt in front of my parents’ speakers, I never once considered the voice in her work as masculine, but I like this idea of audio drag. It seems especially relevant to ideas of translation, obviously pertinent again to Carson (her ‘If Not, Winter’ translation of Sappho, incidentally, a master class in honouring silence).
The translator as impersonator; that putting on of character. From what experience I have of translation, I can vouch for how intriguing it is to play poetry dressing-up. Clomping round the bedroom in a pair of your grandfather’s shoes, gives you a real feel for the space inside a hard leather brogue.